Review: Avatar

Well I saw it, and did I think it lived up to the hype, both good and bad? Eh.

It was very beautiful to look at but the world of Pandora was very familiar to me. Hayao Miyazaki did many similar things in some of his animated films like Nausicaa. In fact, I could see a lot of Miyazaki influence and Roger Dean, the artist of the Yes album covers of the 70s. There was also a feeling of Alan Dean Foster’s Midworld books which I read back in the 80s. Many ideas seem to be cribbed from that series. It’s about a human who is raised, Tarzan-like, by these ape-like creatures on a planet that is covered by giant rain forests much like those in this movie. And then these aliens show up to bulldoze the place and he has to fight them off.

The story of the movie is really insipid. First of all, the depiction of corporations and the military bear absolutely no relation to reality. Real corporations bend over backward to be PC. They do not go around killing people willy nilly. Neither does the US military which spends billions on rebuilding infrastructure in places it invades. It tries to win over the natives, not kill them with the detached kind of amusement as we saw here.

This is the classic anti-war lefty propaganda stance that was wrong in Vietnam and its wrong now. The real monsters were the other guys, but they have to make us out to be the villains. This movie is a thinly veiled Oliver Stone-type Vietnam movie. With blue guys and flying dragons.

Was it entertaining? Sure, if you can turn off your brain and not groan at every cliche that comes along. The dialog is ok, the acting is good. The cgi is wonderful, especially the subtle performances that come through on the faces of the alien actors. You forget that they are cgi, even though at times it looks it.

Cameron can write and direct a good action film. He is not as bone headed as Lucas. But he reveals himself to be another Hollywood bubble head. No relation to the real world. He writes from his ivory tower how people should commune with nature like a Rousseau noble savage. Yet Rousseau, who influenced all the back to nature fools that followed him, really abhorred nature and spent most of his time in the cities. In fact, he hated people, too. He was another hypocrite like the green clowns who are pushing AGW while flying around on private jets.

The Na’vi in this movie spend a lot of time trying not to be killed by nature. But they have so many absurd advantages to commune with other animals humans don’t have, including some kind of fiber optics cable in their braids (don’t ask). And the trees talk to them. Yeah.

As a movie I think this is important for the technical achievements. Other than that it’s as trite and puerile as a Carson of Venus story by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Check out this scene from Nausicaa and see if it doesn’t remind you of Avatar a little. The difference is Nausicaa has a great story, is a well grafted and original yarn. And he doesn’t copy other people’s ideas to death. It also came out in the 80s.

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14 Comments

  1. I agree with your assessment above. It’s a shame really because I really wanted to like this movie but the whole “white man’s guilt” thing needs to end. Over at bighollywood.com in the comments section someone described it as the Supermodel of movies. Beautiful but no brain it’s head.

  2. Yeah. Steven Spielberg said it reminded him of Star Wars the first time he saw it. Well, that is how I felt. When I saw Star Wars I as also disappointed and I am a huge SF fan. But it was so illogical and the dialog and acting were so bad I felt it was a shame that someone finally made a cool looking SF film and it had to be so childish. That is how this film made me feel. Someone finally was able to do a film set on an alien world that really looked amazing, but it was all in service of a cliched, stupid white guilt trip by some “aging hippy”

  3. Oh, wow I think I actually saw this anime back in the 80s when I was kid. This is the one with the giant sand worms right? What’s sad is that the story of this enviro themed anime seems more interesting than the more action-packed Avatar which I also saw this weekend.

  4. QUOTE – “Over at bighollywood.com in the comments section someone described it as the Supermodel of movies”

    Speaking of Big Hollywood, what’s up with all the hatred over CGI there? Especially with some of the critics. I forget who it was, but one writer/blogger there said he was tired of movies like 300 and Watchmen making movies look like cartoons, “I’m a grown man” were his exact words. They sound like angry old guy not being able to relate to technology. What? Do they hate sci-fi movies or something?

  5. I know some people like that. They find CGI to be unrealistic. A lot of film makers use it as a crutch. Lucas being a great example. He put it in every shot of his prequels. It’s not necessary. A great recent SF movie that used little CGI and was very effective was Pandorum.

  6. Well film makers should do whatever it takes to tell the story in teh most effective way even if it means (and I know a lot of old school BigHollywood commentators will hate this) completely replacing the actors with CG and having a totally CG animated film. I think we can get a lot more sci-fi movies done that way, especially ones based on novels or comic books. Hell, it seems to be the way the Japanese are doing it. Screw the actors, I’m paying to SEE a STORY come to life, not some pretty faces.

  7. I don’t get the hatred for CGI either, but James does have a point. When film makers use it in place of storytelling instead of using it as a great tool for storytelling then there are problems. Overall James Cameron did a great job at showing the audience a world that no one had seen before, and I would like to see more talented film makers with stronger ideas do something with this tech.

  8. There are a lot of geeks crazy about the CG tech in Avatar.

    Read theDigitalBits.com for instance. The editor’s generally a good guy but he’s a left-winger and a bit starry-eyed about tech in general.

    Sorry, but present me with good stories and characters I can empathize with, Hollywood.

    Stop trying to wow me with new technology all the time.

    That stopped impressing me by the time the original Star Wars trilogy was re-released in theaters for the third or fourth time.

    P.S. — Agree about the original Star Wars having its faults but most of those were fixed in The Empire Strikes Back by a superior director and great screenwriting. Too bad the later films didn’t follow that example…

  9. Cameron’s an egomaniac like Lucas is. They live in a world that’s not quite reality.

    Welcome to Hollywood!

    If you don’t get that, I invite to look at BigHollywood.com … Although it’s a right-leaning website, there’s no question it amply documents how out-of-touch with reality a lot of people in LaLa Land are.

    ********

    I HATE the overuse of CGI in films today. Sometimes the old fashioned way works better, too.

    Mostly what I hate is the tech replacing good storytelling and sympathetic characters. That’s what separates the Casablanca’s from Independence Day and its ilk.

    I think a year from now more people are going to realize what a turd of a film Avatar really is.

    Too bad Cameron hasn’t learned his lesson about plagiarism, either. The film sounds like it cribs from far too many obvious sources.

    Remember, he got sued over Terminator because he arrogantly proclaimed to a bunch of people ON-SET that he ripped the plot of the film from an old Harlan Ellison short story.

    History repeats itself…

  10. I dunno, would you call anime an “overuse” of CG tech since it’s ALL animated and no live action? Like I said, if it brings the story to life, that’s what matters. Using “old fashioned” tech for the sake of using “old fashioned” tech is just as bad as using CG for the sake of CG.

  11. CGI doesn’t bother me if it’s done well. All I was saying is some people hate it. Me, I think it can be a crutch. Sometimes it’s better to leave things to the audience’s imagination. There’s a scene in Gone With the Wind where a soldier gets his leg amputated in a army hospital. All you see is the shadow of a doctor with a saw and the guy screams “don’t cut it!”. It’s very effective. More effective than any of the Saw movies.

  12. Sorry for the double-post in a row!

    The new posting system has been slow on my end for a few days now.

    I don’t automatically see the posts put up and I thought that they were possibly deleted by the system.

    *********

    Hand-drawn animation has a life to it that CGI never will.

    CGI betrays itself with the plastic look/ultra sheen that just doesn’t exist in real life and the artificiality that GAWKS at you when the animation isn’t done well.

    Even Pixar knows better to stylize rather than slavishly try to copy real life.

    Hand-drawn animation, by necessity, has had to be stylized from the get-go to be cost-effective. Only Disney’s really insisted on ultra-high standards and even those had to be cut back quite a bit for the feature film unit to survive as long as it did… Even then, the idiots-in-charge shut down the traditional hand-drawn unit of Disney for 5 years after “their films” (the ones the execs mucked with and caused to go well over-budget) tanked at the box office!

    You look at the Japanese stuff it actually isn’t animated anywhere near well as the typical Disney feature film. They are masters of limited animation and distracting the audience from the fact that there’s actually very LITTLE movement on-screen with the animation.

    Once you get past the culture shock of the character designs and pervy things you’d never see in American animation (at least not since World War II when they didn’t have the crazy broadcast standards and political correctness we have now), it’s real obvious the Japanese animation is very limited. They’re very good with effects animation and manipulating backgrounds and doing camera movement but character animation? Not really so much.

    When the Japanese have tried to do CG films they’ve generally failed miserably with an overemphasis on trying to be literal to true-life and lacking the full knowledge-base of the American feature film industry. It took decades to figure out this stuff in the US… Even then, there are very few breakout animated films in the US. More than a few of the recent films have huge animation problems in addition to story and character issues.

    (There are very good reasons why the 1940s and early 1950s are called the Golden Age of Hollywood animation in the US. Likewise, for a variety of very good reasons the 1980s were the Golden Age of Anime.)

    Japan doesn’t have the resources of the US… It’s very limited in money in its motion picture industry and they’ve had to get by with a lot less.

    Oddly enough, the US TV animation industry is very lacking in applying lessons well to limited animation. Japan’s industry is light-years ahead of the US in that regard. The Japanese shows tend to be a lot more colorful and staged better than American TV shows. They know how to spend their money better!

  13. George,

    I was perplexed by this until I realized that the caching I activated for the blog is what’s doing it. Just refresh your browser and you should see the new comments. The caching saves bandwidth and allows the page to load faster, but it does have that annoying aspect.

    Anyway, I agree, story is paramount. Effects secondary. A lot of film makers use CGI to hide how weak their stories are.

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